Monthly Archives: May 2008

Letter From Eric, May 31, 2008

I have been at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca for only for 2 weeks and I am still trying to understand and learn the complexities of the job. I had a group of 9 year old kids today to test the workshop I proposed. Mexican kids are very different from those in America. They were giggling, cavorting and talking about who’s in love with who and the school teachers. But, after it was all done, they had created a small textile woven from a cardboard loom :)

There are so many projects planned that I will be involved with here. I’ll be developing the certification for rugs woven with natural dyes. I will also be designing interactive display structures that explain the fibers, colors, weaving and spinning. The museum asked me to also develop an international exchange between weavers of Oaxaca and other countries. All of this could take a year or more before it happens.

The current exhibit we have is called “De Mitla a Sumatra: The Art of the Woven Fret” with over 130 pieces from different places in the world using the Greca as a universal pattern in every weaving culture. This exhibit will be up until August 2008.

Alejandro de Avila is the museum curator and I haven´t met him yet. He´s doing hundreds of things around Oaxaca.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and I am so glad I am staying in Teotitlan all day :) I feel very tired by the end of the work day. I have been reading a lot about Oaxacan textiles and natural dye books in the last two weeks. It’s a lot of information. Next week I will start to use the museum kitchen to experiment with the new methods I´ve learned from the books. Life is good, as you said. The only thing I am missing is spending enough time with my family :(

Norma’s Note: Museo Textil de Oaxaca is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Current exhibit: “De Mitla a Sumatra (From Mitla to Sumatra): The Art of the Woven Fret” through August 2008

Work Life Oaxaca

Since Eric Chavez started his new position as coordinator of educational services at the recently opened Museo Textil de Oaxaca, he has been describing the things he is doing to get started. He is writing lesson plans to teach beginning weaving techniques to young students in elementary school, and has made several cardboard looms for demonstration and practice. I have come to discover that the most astounding thing about this new job are the work hours, which Eric says is standard practice in Oaxaca. People work a 6-day week! I think we would have a rebellion here. His hours at the museum are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. with two hours off for lunch between 3 and 5 p.m., then back again for a 7 hour day on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is the same for all of Eric’s working friends, including Elsa Sanchez Diaz, who just got a job at a bank/money exchange house. Starting jobs for college graduates range from 7,000 to 10,000 pesos a month. Convert this to dollars and we’re talking about $700-1,000 USD. (Today, the pesos was 10.3 to the $1.) Take it a bit further. This is a 47-hour work week, times four weeks a month, equals 188 hours a month, divided by, let’s say, the $1,000 per month salary. That’s $5.32 per hour tops! I’m thinking, if I were their parents I would be saying, For this I sent them to college? I hear tell that wage laborers will earn about $4-8 dollars per day in Mexico, and it is easy to understand why so many want to immigrate to the U.S. Of course, this is Eric’s first salaried job since graduating from college, tourism has not yet made a full come back to Oaxaca, the family is not selling as many rugs as usual, and this is an opportunity to earn a steady income, help the family, and be part of a fantastic museum in a great city.

AHrgggH! Skyrocketing Airfares & August 11-14 Weaving & Natural Dyeing Workshop

We just booked a round-trip on Continental through Houston directly to Oaxaca from August 9-18, and the airfare is $892! Yikes. Just three days ago it was $822 and we waited too long. I know this is pegged to record costs for oil, now $133 per barrel. I’m waiting to hear announcements that we will be charged for baggage, too. Nevertheless, my friends, Cindy Edwards and Sue Szary are joining me for a 4-day weaving and natural dyeing workshop with Federico Chavez Sosa and his daughter Janet.

We have space for 2 more people, so if you’d like to join in the fun, let me know!

Cindy Edwards is the art gallery director at the North Carolina Arts Incubator in Siler City, NC, and Sue Szary (pronounced Zarry, like Larry) is the executive director of the NC Arts Incubator. Sue also owns “Against His Will Gallery”, is a spinner, raises sheep, and has worked in natural dyes. She runs workshops and classes to teach people how to knit, spin, and dye. Sue wants to learn indigenous Zapotec dyeing techniques. Cindy wants to weave a bag or purse. I’ll probably work on creating a pillow cover.

The NC Arts Incubator offers extensive classes in weaving in partnership with the Central Carolina Community College. Both women are novice/inexperienced weavers, and because the workshops with the Chavez family in Teotitlan del Valle are small, Federico and Janet can customize instruction based on level of participant experience. More experienced weavers will learn more complex techniques. (See March 28 Blog Post describing the Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom for more details.)

We’re going to do some day trips to the Tlacolula market, Mitla, Ocotlan and Arrazola, too, and y’all are invited to come along.

Now, I can reminisce about the days when I could choose which special meal I wanted to order — remember when you could actually EAT on a 4-hour flight when it didn’t feel like it was a “bring along your own picnic.”

Eric’s New Job: Museo Textil de Oaxaca

We’re really excited! Today Eric Chavez Santiago started a new job — coordinator of educational services — at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, the new Oaxaca City museum funded by Alfredo Harp Elu, the Banamex philanthropist and relative of chanteuse Susanna Harp. Un milagro, one might say. But talent, perseverance, intelligence and understanding of textiles as art are the personal strengths that helped Eric get the attention of the museum’s director, Ana Paula. It’s a perfect match! The museum’s mission is to preserve, document, rescue and promote the textiles of Oaxaca. Eric, his father Federico Chavez Sosa, and his sister, Janet Chavez Santiago, have been promoting the textiles of Oaxaca in the U.S. for the past several years by demonstrating, lecturing, and exhibiting their work at universities, museums and galleries.

This didn’t just happen by happenstance. Eric has been preserving the textile traditions of his people by recording the near-forgotten oral formulas of natural dyes, and has documented over 95 different shades of cochineal alone. We talked with Eric when he was here with us in North Carolina in April about ways he and his family could develop a relationship with the new museum. Perhaps, they could exhibit the Chavez tapestries and teach some classes. We encouraged Eric to call the museum when he got home, to make an appointment with the director, and to drop in for a visit. And that’s exactly what he did in late April. When Eric introduced himself, described the work he had been doing in the U.S. and suggested ways he could help the new museum fulfill its mission, the director took notice, asked Eric to develop a proposal, and got the approval from Dr. Maria Isabel Granen Perrua, one of the founders, to create a new position. What developed was something far more valuable than we first imagined, with farther reaching goals that will touch many more people! especially young people who will learn more about their cultural and textile traditions.

“I am formally in this job now from Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm and 5pm to 7pm, and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm,” Eric said today. “Since the Museum is new, most of the goals have yet to be achieved, especially in my area. I will first be developing the programs to teach children about weaving and natural dyeing, and eventually I will do them for tourists, too.” Then, Eric will develop a program to authenticate the use of natural dyes, so that weavers whose work is created with plant materials and cochineal will be certified. He’ll also be developing exhibitions that show how natural dyes are made. The beauty of the new position is that the museum appreciates the relationships that the Chavez family and Eric have developed in the U.S. He will be able to continue to come to the U.S. for 6 weeks a year to lecture and exhibit at galleries, universities and museums as he has done in the past.

“What can I say,” said Eric. “My first formal job is what I love to do!, I will be able to help more weavers from this position and I hope it all goes smooth and well. I am so happy.” And, why not?

Address: Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Hidalgo 917, Centro Oaxaca, Mexico

Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

When you visit, say hello to Eric Chavez.

Just Added! Oaxaca Weaving & Natural Dyeing Workshop — July 7-10, 2008

We’ve just added a new workshop to the calendar. This will be a 4-day workshop that will combine weaving and natural dyeing techniques to be held at the home of Federico Chavez Sosa in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The workshop starts on Monday and ends on Thursday. This will give you time, while you’re in Oaxaca, to visit the Sunday market in Tlacolula and the Friday market in Ocotlan. We are also holding the July 28-31 workshop as scheduled.

Who should attend? Weavers, textile artists, anyone interested in the fiber art of Oaxaca who wants to experiment with weaving on a 2-harness loom and use plant materials (moss, lichens, indigo, pomegranate) and cochineal to dye wool.

See earlier post Oaxaca Weaving Workshop: Dancing on the Loom, posted March 28, 2008, for program details.